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Burnley: BTSport.com's Premier League 2019/20 season preview

After the lofty heights of seventh in 2017/18, the Clarets fell to a 15th-placed finish last season. With no Europa League qualifying to worry about, Sean Dyche will be hoping for more stability this time round.

Last season's Premier League finish: 15th - (W11 D7 L20 - F45 A68 - Pts 40)

Last season's top scorers: Ashley Barnes 12 (13 in all competitions), Chris Wood 10 (13 in all competitions)

To finish in the top half*: 7/1

First five fixtures: Southampton (H), Arsenal (A), Wolves (A), Liverpool (H), Brighton (A)

Predicted finish (BTSport.com writers' combined prediction): 15th

Predicted finish by The Script: 17th

Transfers in: Jay Rodriguez - West Brom (£5m), Erik Pieters - Stoke (£1m), Ryan Cooney - Bury (loan), Joel Senior - Curzon Ashton (undisclosed), Bailey Peacock-Farrell - Leeds (£3m), Danny Drinkwater - Chelsea (loan)

Transfers out: Tom Heaton - Aston Villa (£8m), Stephen Ward - Stoke (free transfer), Aiden O'Neill - Brisbane Roar (free), Anders Lindegaard - Helsingborg (free), Nakhi Wells - QPR (loan), Peter Crouch - retired

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Read on for BTSport.com's in-depth Burnley season preview, or check out more from our exclusive series:

Arsenal | Aston Villa | Bournemouth | Brighton | Chelsea | Crystal Palace | Everton | Leicester | Liverpool | Man City | Man Utd | Newcastle | Norwich | Sheff Utd | Southampton | Tottenham | Watford | West Ham | Wolves

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Reasons to be optimistic

While so many teams are struggling for an identity in a Premier League full of flux, Burnley are a side that know exactly who they are.

The Clarets will approach this season just as they did the last, and the one before that, and the one before that… with the same core group of players and the same primary aims.

Burnley will seek to remain compact and hard to beat, especially at Turf Moor, while putting the opposition under pressure with crosses from deep.

With 652 shots faced, Burnley comfortably allowed the most efforts of any side in the division last season but could count on an organised rearguard to provide a solid last line of defence.

They scored 38% of their goals through set pieces - the third-most in the division. Dyche’s side also made the fewest changes to their starting line-up of any Premier League team. Ahead of a fourth consecutive season in the top flight, the hope is that continuity breeds consistency.

The 2018/19 campaign saw them contend with playing three two-legged Europa League qualifying rounds, beginning in late July and encompassing trips to Aberdeen, Istanbul and Athens.

The second-leg defeat in the third qualifying round by Olympiacos was a blessing in disguise. It’s no surprise that Burnley lost four and drew one of their opening five league matches during the European campaign.

Without the burden of those extra games, Burnley will start the season fresh and will hope to avoid a repeat of that slow start.

Fans can also look forward to seeing more from 19-year-old Dwight McNeil. The ex-Manchester United trainee made 21 appearances and scored three goals after breaking into the first team last season.

"That young man's got a massive chance of being a top, top player,” Dyche said after one particularly impressive display during a defeat to Liverpool.

Reasons to be fearful​

“Seventh isn’t the highest possible, but it might be the highest probable finish,” Dyche warned supporters 12 months ago after Burnley finished in the final Europa League qualifying position in 2017/18.

He was right not to get ahead of himself. Burnley regressed badly in 2018/19 and spent the majority of the campaign battling relegation before eventually pulling clear of the drop late on with some timely results.

With Huddersfield, Fulham and Cardiff replaced by Norwich, Sheffield United and Aston Villa, the Premier League appears to have got stronger. A repeat of Burnley’s three wins from their opening 19 games could prove fatal this time round.

Burnley’s success has been built on defensive solidity and a small, tight-knit group of players that the manager entrusts with executing his plans on the field. Even with Nick Pope, Joe Hart and new signing Bailey Peacock-Farrell as options to replace him, the departure of experienced head Tom Heaton weakens Burnley.

But many of that core group are entering the twilight of their careers. Phil Bardsley and Aaron Lennon are among the key players north of 30 years old. Burnley had the second-oldest average age of any side last season and the signings of 31-year-old Erik Pieters and 29-year-old Jay Rodriguez have hardly remedied that.

Put simply, Dyche must hope that hard work, experience and know-how prove enough to keep the Clarets clear of danger. It's a formula that has served him well to date but it is entirely possible that the coming campaign could prove his biggest challenge yet.

Key man: Ashley Barnes

The “king of the wind-ups” according to Alastair Campbell, a “criminal” to Jose Mourinho and accused of “anti-football” by David Luiz - Ashley Barnes is one of the most divisive players in the Premier League and he knows it.

The forward is best known for his combative style and for getting under the skin of opposition defenders. “I do like to wind up the big ones,” Barnes admitted. “I enjoy playing the villain.”

Yet he is also one of the most effective. While Chris Wood, Peter Crouch, Nakhi Wells, Matej Vydra, Sam Vokes and Lukas Jutkiewicz have all come (and in some cases gone), Barnes has remained and last season finished as the club’s top Premier League scorer with 12 strikes.

After netting just three during Clarets’ disastrous first half of the season, Barnes bagged nine after the turn of the year to help lift Burnley clear of relegation trouble. In total he was directly involved in 31% of the club’s Premier League goals in 2018/19.

Whether partnering Wood up front, playing off a front man or as a lone striker himself, centre-backs can always expect a torrid afternoon when Barnes lines up against them.

Burnley know what they are about and what they do best - and that they are at their most effective when Barnes is in the team.

The manager: Sean Dyche

Burnley and Dyche appear to be the perfect marriage. The team plays in the image of their manager, the manager represents the interests of the supporters and the working-class fans identify with the hard-grafting group of players they see at Turf Moor on match days.

Dyche is the second-longest serving manager in the Premier League, his spell of almost seven years in charge bettered only by Eddie Howe at Bournemouth by a mere 12 days. Having won promotion to the Premier League in 2014, Burnley stuck by their man when they were relegated at the first time of asking. He rewarded that faith by bouncing back immediately and they’ve remained in the top flight ever since.

Burnley mostly play an uncompromising, compact 4-4-1-1 with an emphasis on launching crosses from deep rather than retaining possession. It’s a defence-first philosophy and one that sees them remain rigid and compact above all else.

They recognise their limitations against technically superior sides and seek to close the gulf in class by imposing their own style on the game rather than going toe-to-toe with the big boys.

And Dyche is bullish in defence of his tactics. “It’s simple for me,” the 48-year-old said last season in his unmistakeable, gravelly voice. “We’ve found a way of being successful. It’s more reality tactics for me.”

It’s one reason why no serious approaches have been made for Dyche’s services by any of their more decorated rivals. While his achievements are impressive, bigger clubs hardly aspire to play like Burnley do.

So as long as Dyche remains unfashionable, Burnley are set to hold on to him. And that suits chairman Mike Garlick just fine.

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Fans' view - Alan Beecroft - Colne Clarets

"Last season was dire up until about Christmas and even the most diehard of supporters thought we were going to go down. So the second half of the season was a remarkable turnaround.

"It seemed to all change when Joe Hart was left out and Heaton came back in. The team instantly started working harder and playing for each other once he was back in there.

"I actually don’t think the Europa League qualifiers were that much of a factor in our bad start - when we were in the Championship we played just as many games. I just put it down to a poor start and some individual errors.

"Dyche has been there since 2012 now. There is a consistency that has grown and that comes with keeping the management in place. No one seems to trust managers anymore but as a club we’ve always shown a lot of faith in ours.

"He has a budget and they expect him to work with that. We aren’t in the position to play flamboyant football because we don’t have the personnel to do that. We just can’t afford the wages and fees.

"Realistically if we can finish as somewhere near the best of the rest [outside the top six] then we’ve had a great season.

"That being said - if we went down next season Dyche would still have a job. That’s just the way our football club is run."

*All odds correct with bet365 at time of writing

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